For his first concert as music director of the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, Scott Terrell made the somewhat unusual step of taking up the baton for the annual Independence Day Eve patriotic concert at Transylvania University and Gratz Park in 2009.
It was what is known as a statement.
In addition to traditional marches and patriotic songs, Terrell mixed in some Broadway tunes and film music, even a touch of music from across the pond, to broaden the event’s perspective on American tunes. Message: Terrell was going to help us see music in different ways, and he’s been making good on that promise for nearly a decade now, right up to Friday night’s concert at the Singletary Center for the Arts.
For the second performance in Terrell’s 10th and final season as music director, we were back to an American theme, and there were usual suspects, particularly the concert finale of Aaron Copland’s “Four Dances from ‘Rodeo.’”
But right before that, we had a Malaysian pianist center stage playing the music of a Frenchman. What?
You wouldn’t have known if someone didn’t tell you. Maurice Ravel’s “Piano Concerto in G major” draws heavy, obvious influences from his time in America listening to the sounds of the early 20th century, particularly jazz. That all shows up in the work, which had an enthusiastic interpreter in 20-year-old sensation Tengku Irfan.
It was the native Malaysian and Juilliard-trained musician’s first go around with the work, which he told us he had liked, but had not learned until the Phil asked him to play it.
After a somewhat hesitant start, Irfan completely dove into the work, particularly the extended and sublime solo at the beginning of the second movement, Adagio assai, which we wished would not end until it was answered in the winds — specifically flutist Arpi Anderson, oboist David Powell and clarinetist Rajesh Soodeen. As they and a lush ripple of violin overtook the movement, Irfan continued a shimmering flow underneath.
Here is where I will really defend clapping between movements. Friday’s student night crowd gave several first and subsequent movements applause, a move errantly looked down upon by modern orchestra audiences, part of the logic being the applause breaks the spell of a complete work. But the applause after the first movement of the Ravel did nothing of the kind, simply giving the performance the acknowledgment it earned, and then the audience knew to leave the second movement alone, let it be, even if it was arguably the best performance of the night.
The third movement brought the piece home with authority from all involved, particularly Irfan, and proved a great lead in to Copland. And the night began with a perfect bookend to the American master in Joan Tower’s “Made in America,” a cinematic, relentless overture built on “America the Beautiful.”
That led into maybe the most curious selection of a concert titled “Made in America”: Mozart’s “Symphony No. 31 in D major ‘Paris.’” The United States of America was a mere two years old when Mozart composed the popular symphony, which did present an obvious line to Ravel and Paris.
Most important to those of us in the concert hall, Terrell and the Phil just seemed to have a ball playing it.
The same sort of energy manifested itself in the concert ending “Rodeo.” Listening to the crisp western accents at the end of the thought-provoking evening, it was easy to remember, Copland was the New York-based composer who somehow seemed to get rural and western America. Through the players involved, the audience Friday night at the Singletary heard America as an idea that has extended well beyond regions, borders and even nationalities.
A decade in, Terrell still has us looking at American music in different ways.
▪ The Lexington Philharmonic’s next concert is “A Cathedral Christmas” at 8 p.m. Dec. 1 at the Cathedral of Christ the King. Call 859-233-4226 or visit lexphil.org for tickets and more information.